Harrogate Theatre Studio provides the fourth stop in a 14-venue, 17-performance tour of Tiny Volcanoes by Paines Plough in association with Liverpool Everyman and Playhouse. On the first night of two a meagre audience enjoyed the energetic two-hander, though of its description as “a fast-paced, hilarious and excoriating inquisition” into Britain, only the first epithet is really accurate.
Kevin Harvey and Michael Ryan play the parts of actors Kevin and Michael, two Scousers touring a play-cum-revue in praise of Britain. Kevin is the more articulate, the more sceptical, the more likely to go off message. Two recurrent devices link the disparate material: Kevin is about to become a father (his partner is Michael’s sister) and doubts his ability to fulfil the role, and Michael delivers a poem about family life in stages, its original optimistic ending replaced by a powerfully over-the-top tragedy full of grotesque details that provides one of Tiny Volcanoes’ few “excoriating” moments.
Laurence Wilson’s script and James Grieve’s direction manage effectively the shifts of tone, the switches between simple comedy and aggressive satire, between poetry, song and sketches, but the genuinely original moments are few and far between. For instance, it provides a frisson to hear one of those initially moderate speeches about reducing immigration which builds to mouth-foaming racism delivered by a black man (Kevin Harper, with impeccable Received Pronunciation), but a scene about a son coming out as a Muslim is amiably predictable.
Michael Ryan projects the lovable Scouser well, delivers his ongoing poem with feeling and restraint, and attacks his multiple roles with relish. Kevin Harper is altogether subtler, excellent in every way, sympathetic even when wrong-headed, facially expressive, vocally varied and precise. Both are thoroughly engaging, though the production makes little attempt to involve the audience after the early embarrassing-the-middle-classes phase during which I was hauled to my feet for the National Anthem! Xenia Bayer’s lighting and sound and Tim Brunsden’s video are essential and well-judged components of a production that has nothing resembling a set.